Illegal gold molded into our wedding rings, dangling around our necks and hidden in our smartphones is polluting the rainforest with toxic chemicals and exploiting workers in Latin America.
Gold miners have stripped roughly 415,000 acres of South American tropical forest, an area twice as big as New York City, according to researchers at the University of Puerto Rico — and the rate of deforestation is only getting worse.
In Colombia, teenagers swim in mercury-filled pools of water as they use powerful hoses to suck up gold, an investigation by Massachusetts-based nonprofit Verité found. This week Pope Francis will bring his moral authority to the crisis when he visits Peru’s epicenter of illegal gold mining, Madre de Dios.
Solutions won’t be easy — but they exist. “There are ways of mining gold without mercury, without massive deforestation, without child slavery,” said Douglas Farah, a national security consultant who has studied illegal gold mining.
To stop the unrelenting environmental and human devastation, an array of competing interests will have to collaborate to extract gold in a more humane way, according to workers’ rights advocates, environmentalists and industry experts.
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